Emma Yates, an experienced litigator with a particular focus on defamation and reputation management, highlights why a recent case demonstrates pursuit of an anonymous defamer can achieve results.
At one point in time (pre the internet, if anyone can remember that), if you were defamed it was highly likely that you’d either know who the maker of the defamatory comment was or you could find out without too much difficulty. In today’s social media driven environment, that’s changed and it can be scary. The thought that someone can seriously damage your reputation and you don’t know who that person is or how to stop them is not a nice thought.
The recent case of Blackledge v Persons Unknown is a welcome reminder that you can do something about this, and you should. The Courts are increasingly sympathetic to the plight of a Claimant that is at the mercy of an unknown social media defamer.
What Blackledge demonstrates is that if you can show that you have done all that you can to try and find the person responsible for defaming you, the law will be on your side and you can still proceed against “persons unknown”. In fact this case references Pirtek (UK) Ltd v Jackson, a 2017 case I was involved in. The facts differed slightly as we had a very good idea who the maker of the defamatory comments was and named him as Defendant in the claim form. However, he didn’t initially engage with us, and we had no residential address for service. We could only contact him via his website and an old email address which was unresponsive. Therefore, we also had to apply for permission to proceed against an unresponsive Defendant (and persuade the Court why we should be able to proceed) and to serve him by alternative means. It just shows that all of this can be done.
You may wonder what the point is of proceeding when you don’t know who the person responsible for the defamatory comments is, but, again, this case highlights that there is every point in doing so. Whilst you may struggle to enforce the judgment that you are given against the Defendant, you can ask the Court to grant an order that the operator or host of the website removes the content in accordance with section 13 of the Defamation Act 2013. Frequently website operators will not assist unless or until there is a Court order forcing them to do so. In this case it looks like Google LLC (i.e. a company incorporated in the USA) was prepared to comply with an English Court order, which should be comforting to anyone that finds themselves in the unfortunate position as the Claimant in this action.